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Sonoma Raceway Under Fire for Rights Grabbing Photo Policy

Sonoma Raceway has sparked a backlash from photographers after issuing new photography guidelines yesterday that many are calling an egregious case of a photography rights grab.

The famous racetrack in Sonoma, California, which is host to one of the seven annual NASCAR Cup Series road course races, put out this document (coincidentally on World Photography Day) for photographers:

The document states that photographers who obtain a vest and photo access must:

1. Share all non-watermarked photos shot at an event to the raceway within 48-72 hours or risk not getting access as a photographer in the future.

2. Allow their photos to be used by the raceway for any advertising purposes without photo credit.

Needless to say, photographers who read the letter reacted strongly and began calling out Sonoma Raceway on social media, here the letter has been widely circulated. Here are some of the reactions (and clever ideas):

After seeing the letter, NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher contacted Sonoma Raceway marketing manager Kevin Kern with his concerns.

As general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) and a photojournalist with over forty years of experience in both print and broadcast, I am appalled after reading your letter (attached) regarding new terms and conditions for photo access to your events. It is truly ironic that your begin with “dear valued photographer” and then [go] on to demand that photographers covering your events consent to the use of their images, without credit for a variety of commercial, promotional and social media uses. Not only that, but you further require them to provide those images to you within “48-72 hours after the event completion.” Such required consent is accompanied by a threat that “failure to do so will eliminate your ability to receive a vest in the future.”

This is nothing more than a blatant rights grab of the intellectual property of those photographers covering your events. NPPA strenuously objects to such overreaching and onerous agreements. Fortunately, some performers who made similar demands quickly realized the error of their ways (see:

If you truly value photographers, we hope you will change this policy immediately.

As photographers began speaking out, Sonoma Raceway responded with a clarification, stating that the letter was only directed at a subset of photographers who shoot at the track rather than all motorsports photographers.

“We apologize for the earlier miscommunication regarding our photography vest policy,” a Sonoma Raceway spokesperson said in an email to PetaPixel. “The policy applies to our Wednesday Night Drags and drifting, and fulfills the need for us to screen photographers that are requesting vests for access to dangerous areas on a weekly basis.”

“It does NOT apply to editorial coverage, NASCAR or NHRA events, and our original correspondence should have specified further details.”

The letter on Sonoma Raceway’s website has been changed from the one originally given to photographers to specifically mention “weekly racing programs including Wednesday Night Drags and drifting.” Other sections of the guidelines have been toned down as well (e.g. the policy now demands a “selection” of non-watermarked photos instead of all of them).

When asked about the rights of the photographers these new guidelines do apply to, the spokesperson replied: “I would be more than happy to handle each of those cases individually, but this policy is very consistent, if not more accommodating, with most major sports venues.”

“While I am a bit relieved that it does not apply to editorial photography, I also think it a bit disingenuous for them to use this type of rights grab to ‘screen photographers that are requesting vests for access to dangerous areas on a weekly basis,’” Osterreicher tells PetaPixel. “They could ask them to sign a waiver and release from liability. They could have asked to review or see their images or they could have asked who they are shooting for, but requesting the right to use images without credit no matter who shoots them devalues photography as a form of visual expression and creative work.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed from Depositphotos

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